The NF-κB subunit c-Rel regulates Bach2 tumour suppressor expression in B-cell lymphoma

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The REL gene, encoding the NF-κB subunit c-Rel, is frequently amplified in B-cell lymphoma and functions as a tumour-promoting transcription factor. Here we report the surprising result that c-rel-/- mice display significantly earlier lymphomagenesis in the c-Myc driven, Eμ-Myc model of B-cell lymphoma. c-Rel loss also led to earlier onset of disease in a separate TCL1-Tg-driven lymphoma model. Tumour reimplantation experiments indicated that this is an effect intrinsic to the Eμ-Myc lymphoma cells but, counterintuitively, c-rel-/- Eμ-Myc lymphoma cells were more sensitive to apoptotic stimuli. To learn more about why loss of c-Rel led to earlier onset of disease, microarray gene expression analysis was performed on B cells from 4-week-old, wild-type and c-rel-/- Eμ-Myc mice. Extensive changes in gene expression were not seen at this age, but among those transcripts significantly downregulated by the loss of c-Rel was the B-cell tumour suppressor BTB and CNC homology 2 (Bach2). Quantitative PCR and western blot analysis confirmed loss of Bach2 in c-Rel mutant Eμ-Myc tumours at both 4 weeks and the terminal stages of disease. Moreover, Bach2 expression was also downregulated in c-rel-/- TCL1-Tg mice and RelA Thr505Ala mutant Eμ-Myc mice. Analysis of wild-type Eμ-Myc mice demonstrated that the population expressing low levels of Bach2 exhibited the earlier onset of lymphoma seen in c-rel-/- mice. Confirming the relevance of these findings to human disease, analysis of chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing data revealed that Bach2 is a c-Rel and NF-κB target gene in transformed human B cells, whereas treatment of Burkitt’s lymphoma cells with inhibitors of the NF-κB/IκB kinase pathway or deletion of c-Rel or RelA resulted in loss of Bach2 expression. These data reveal a surprising tumour suppressor role for c-Rel in lymphoma development explained by regulation of Bach2 expression, underlining the context-dependent complexity of NF-κB signalling in cancer.

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